The Donkey Kong Country series features some of the greatest 2D platforming known to video games. Thanks to two excellent developers who have produced titles for the series, Rare and Retro Studios, the franchise holds multiple top-tier titles beloved by millions of gamers. With a penchant for excellent level design, tight controls, lovely visuals, and outstanding music, the Donkey Kong Country series is rightfully regarded as one of gaming’s greatest.
With so many high quality titles, ranking the Donkey Kong Country series is no easy task, but that’s exactly what we have set out to do today. Let’s jump right in.
5. Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Triple Trouble is a bit of a misstep compared to other entries in the series, but it is still a respectable platformer with plenty to enjoy. The game’s main weaknesses come in its uninspired soundtrack and its significant drop in difficulty and quality level design compared to its two predecessors. This is still a competent platformer, but seasoned fans of the first two Donkey Kong Country games were generally able to blitz through Donkey Kong Country 3 without much trouble. The game still looks great, is nice to play, and has a few exciting levels, but for the most part, Donkey Kong Country 3 is a much less engaging game than every other entry in the series.
The game’s initial SNES release was overshadowed by the Nintendo 64 launching just two months earlier, causing many fans of the series to miss out on Donkey Kong Country 3. If you haven’t tried the game out, it’s definitely still worth a look, even if it doesn’t hit the same “classic” status as the rest of the franchise.
4. Donkey Kong Country Returns
Donkey Kong Country Returns brought the series back from a fourteen-year hiatus. Releasing after Rare joined Microsoft, the series was newly in the hands of developer Retro Studios (also of Metroid Prime fame). Donkey Kong Country Returns set itself apart from its predecessors with new gameplay mechanics such as rocket barrel levels, a more modern artstyle fit for the Wii, slightly more forgiving design, and a brand new set of enemies in the Tiki Tak Tribe.
For the most part, the new additions are welcome. Rocket barrel levels in particular are a great addition to the series’ set of fast-paced animal and Minecart missions. While the newer graphics lack the retro charm of the original trilogy, the game still put a lush, vibrant color palette to good use as DK and Diddy traveled through thick forests, sandy beaches, treacherous mountains, and much more. In many ways, the game continued the series seamlessly. The punishing level design, catchy music, and cantankerous Kong Family all had the same wonderful feel that they did on SNES over a decade earlier.
Donkey Kong Country Returns marked a fantastic first outing in the series for Retro Studios. It was not quite as polished as earlier entries or its sequel, but make no mistake, Donkey Kong Country Returns is still an outstanding platformer.
3. Donkey Kong Country
The first Donkey Kong Country made quite an entrance, showing the world a new side of Donkey Kong and solidifying Rare as a game developer to be reckoned with. For the first time, Nintendo’s star simian displayed personality beyond that of his chest-beating, kidnap-loving arcade persona. The character’s hallmark jazzy soundtracks, cartoonish hijinks, and beloved Kong family all owe a ton to Donkey Kong Country.
Compared to its contemporary platforming rivals like Super Mario World and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Donkey Kong Country offers a different flavor of platforming. Its gameplay is slower, more deliberate, and immensely challenging. Its art style is more intense, crowding the screen with vegetation, machinery, and more while pushing the SNES to its limits with revolutionary prerendered graphics. The complete package comes together beautifully, and back when the game was released in 1994, it was enough to cement DK as a major player in Nintendo’s IP catalog.
2. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was an outstanding leap forward for Retro Studios and their work on the series. This game and the next title on the list are both in a league of their own, which is saying a lot, considering how excellent the rest of the series is. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze firmly belongs in the discussion for best 2D platformer of all time.
Gameplay in particular shines for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, especially when attempting Gold Medal runs in time trials. Levels are perfectly constructed for platforming at any pace. The game also has one of the best soundtracks in the series, and puts HD graphics to good use in building several creative, eye-catching environments. With more focused level design than its predecessor, the game is an absolute joy to play from start to finish, offering excellent gameplay pacing, addicting levels, and a near-perfect level of challenge. Sure, it had the occasional hiccup – some of the game’s characters weren’t too fun to play as, and the evil penguins just don’t hit the same as the Kremlings, but overall, this game’s sheer level of quality is hard to beat.
With Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Retro Studios proved that the Donkey Kong Country franchise was in just as capable hands as it was with Rare. It’s too bad that they have not been able to take another crack at the series since.
1. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
Not only is Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest the best game in the series, it is also one of the best 2D platformers ever made and one of the greatest games of all time. Many of this title’s strengths shine brighter than the rest of the Donkey Kong Country series. The soundtrack is superb, the gameplay combines immaculate level design with perfect controls, and the art direction excels through a wide variety of lovely, vibrant pixelated environments.
Donkey Kong Country 2 is responsible for several of the most iconic levels, musical arrangements, and gameplay moments on the SNES. Its levels flow together in a way that only Tropical Freeze comes close to matching, with incredible, rewarding levels like Animal Antics and Klobber Karnage. Its soundtrack is sublime. And who could forget that exhilarating final boss fight against King K. Rool? Donkey Kong Country 2 is 16-bit platforming at its finest.
What do you think of our ranking of the Donkey Kong Country series? Did we get it right, or do you disagree with our placements? Feel free to let us know your thoughts.